Simon watched the dark figures on the edge of the wood fade into the forest. A quick search of Ian’s room showed that nothing of value had been left, and everything had been thoroughly, if quickly, searched by whoever had ransacked the room. Simon went downstairs to the innkeeper, with Colby and Trish following closely behind. “Innkeeper, the Earth priest, Ian, seems to be missing”.
The innkeeper looked at Simon with bemusement and said, “That old man was a troublemaker at the temple, and now he’s bringing his trouble here. You should probably let the guards know, there’s one just outside the door”.
Simon exited the inn and found the guard sitting on a bench outside. “The Earth priest Ian is missing and it appears that someone broke into and ransacked his room”.
The guard stood, “Strange. No one came past me. Let’s see his room, then”.
The guard followed Simon to Ian’s room and looked inside. “Looks like something tore through here in a hurry, that’s for sure,” said the guard, “Did you see anything?”
Simon paused a moment before answering, “There was a rat in the hallway, and the door was ajar when we came up the stairs. We entered the room and saw it jump out the window. When we got to the window, we saw the rat run to a group standing near the forest. They then turned into the forest, and we came down to get you.”
“Let’s go to the edge of the forest and see what we find,” said the guard.
The party went to the area where Simon had seen the figures and began to use the tracking skills taught to them by Two-Feather and the adherents of Dagaral. It was easily apparent that there had been mounts waiting in the area, both from the hoof prints and the horse manure that liberally spotted the area. “Over here,” said Trish.
Simon came over and looked at the tracks Trish had found. They belonged to a large dog or wolf. “Well, I can’t stay here, and I’m not going into the forest in any case,” said the guard, “I’ll report this up my chain of command, but I’m not sure that they’ll do anything about it. Ian wasn’t well liked at the temple, but he was always decent to me”.
As the guard departed, Trish, Simon and Colby decided to follow the trail. Between Trish and Simon, they tracked their quarry through an old temple complex, and confirmed the tracks that they were following belonged to the malamorphs. “If they aren’t malamorphs,” said Simon, “they are the biggest rats I’ve ever seen. I’m glad Prospero isn’t here, or you can be sure we’d be exploring the ruins here too.”
Further along, the trail split, and so did the tracks. “It looks like the main party went this way,” said Simon, pointing down the left hand path.
Trish couldn’t find a flaw in his reasoning, so they followed the left branch until they came to a waterfall. Simon danced over the top of the waterfall effortlessly with Colby in his pocket, while Trish slogged clumsily across. On the other side, they came around a blind corner, where Simon touched Trish’s shoulder and whispered, “Up ahead, man rats”.
Simon stooped and pretended to remove a rock from his shoe, “I’ll act like I’m going to the woods to pee, stay here”.
Simon stood and walked into the woods, while Trish pretended she hadn’t noticed the man rats. Once he was a short distance in, Simon cast a silence spell, and crept in a large circle to come up behind the one on Trish’s right. As he came up behind the man rat, he noticed that there were actually two on the other side of the trail, and they were waiting with crossbows out for Trish to come a little further down the trail. A quick swipe of his sword silently removed the head from the man rat’s shoulders in front of him, and he eased the body to the ground. He cast invisibility on himself, and snuck behind the man rat standing in the rear, and killed him, but the creature gave a grunt as he died. The lead man rat spun around in time to see his compatriot fall dead to the ground and catch Simon’s foot in his face. Simon began working to subdue the malamorph, but it let out a screech, and suddenly two gigantic swarms of rats burst forth from the forest around Trish. Simon knocked the man rat out with the flat of his blade, and then assisted Trish in dispersing the rat swarms.
When Trish and Simon returned to the unconscious man rat, he had returned to human form. “Who are you, and what happened to Ian?” asked Trish.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied the man, crying. “I’m just a farmer, why am I here? Who are you?”
The man wouldn’t give any more information, so Colby popped his head out of Simon’s pouch, “Hey, I can walk this guy,” he said, “You know, sit on his shoulder with a knife to his throat. He’ll be my own human steed!”
A few minutes later, the party set forth again, with Colby riding the former man rat. A short way up the trail, Simon spotted a group of wolves. The party halted, and as they watched, they saw a man wolf come out and give commands to the wolf pack, which bounded out into the forest. A man pig walked up behind the man wolf, and it was obvious they were setting up an ambush. As Simon cast invisibility and stealth on himself, Trish secured the man to a nearby tree with the rope that bound him. Simon circled around behind the man wolf, and as he dropped from a killing slash, Colby ran down the trail towards the battle, and Trish charged the man pig, wounding him.
Wolves bounded out of the forest, causing Colby to stop, spin and skewer the closest one on his rapier. Another wolf leapt at Trish, but was cut in half by the backswing of her sword after she attacked the man pig. Simon, Colby and Trish surrounded the man pig, who continued to fight ferociously. Suddenly, the man pig squealed loudly and swept his large sword in a large arc. Simon and Trish were able to dodge out of the way, but the blade came crashing down on Colby, wounding him. Simon stepped forward and speared the man pig through the chest with his katana, and the creature fell lifeless to the ground. Trish’s swords clattered to the ground and she dropped to her knees. Simon came over to her and could see sweat beading up and rolling down her face. “Can’t… see…well,” gasped Trish.
Simon pulled one of the leaves the Dagaral priests had given him. “Put this under your tongue,” he said.
Trish put it under her tongue and could feel her vision clearing. “Damn, that burns,” she said as she stood, spit the leaf out, and sheathed her weapons, “I can still feel the presence at the back of my mind, but that’s better.”“If you two are done talking about spices, we have another problem,” Colby called to the others, holding up the gnawed ends of a rope, “Our prisoner is gone”.
The party followed an uneven path to the bottom of a hill, where they spotted a cave. There were a couple of wild boars rooting around in the underbrush at the sides of the cave. Simon went invisible, and snuck behind the boar on the left. The boar on the right suddenly spun and lifted his head to sniff the air. With a squeal, it charged to where Colby had been sneaking down the path towards the cave entrance. Simon killed the boar near him, and Trish rushed forward and killed the boar that charged Colby. The noise had done its job, as two bears and two man bears rushed out of the cave towards the party. Colby’s rapier went through the eye of the bear rushing at him, and it dropped heavily to the ground. One of the man bears roared, causing Trish to lose her concentration, and the other man bear took advantage of the distraction, swiping her with a big paw. As blood welled from where the man bear’s claws cut her skin, Trish lashed out instinctually with her swords, killing the creature. Simon killed the other man bear and his familiar, then summoned Telpurr to heal Trish’s wounds.
As Telpurr tended to Trish, Colby went into the cave. There was a small entrance that opened into a large room at the end. It was obviously a lair for the creatures, based on the ragged furs scattered around the sleeping area. There was an old cook fire that had been allowed to die, and on one wall, there were stones set in the shape of an arch big enough for a man to go through. Colby reached out and hesitantly touched the area within the arch, but nothing happened. He looked at the runes and muttered, “Where is Prospero when you need him”.
Seeing nothing else of interest, he scurried back out to the mouth of the cave, where Telpurr was melting back into Simon’s sword. “Guys, I’ve found something you should probably see,” said Colby.
A few minutes later, the party was standing around the archway, and Simon had brought Telpurr out of the sword again to look at the structure. “It’s old, certainly,” said Telpurr, “But it is very crude. Absolutely not Journeyman work, but I can’t tell you more than that.”
As Telpurr went back into the sword once more, Trish reached out to the archway and touched it. The runes began lighting one by one, and once they were all lit, a grey void formed in the middle of the archway. In a swift move, Colby jumped forward, and disappeared. “Well, I guess we’re going through now,” said Trish as she and Simon followed Colby through the portal.
Trish and Simon materialized next to Colby. They could see the giants digging for the Jade King’s tomb in the distance, but they were standing on the top of a ziggurat a short distance into the jungle, but completely obscured by vegetation. There was a large jade statue of a man holding a bowl in front of him in his hands. Simon looked into the bowl, and seeing nothing, pulled out a flask and poured water into it. The water appeared to soak into the bowl, but nothing else happened. Trish dropped some coins into the bowl, but nothing happened, so she pulled them back out and put them into her pouch. Colby pulled out a dagger and pricked his finger, then squeezed some drops of his blood into the bowl. The statue shivered, then the entire structure slid to the side, revealing circular stairs going down into darkness.
The party cautiously went down the stairs, which were very dusty and covered in recent footprints. As they reached the bottom, they found a desiccated corpse lying on the ground. It was obviously ancient, and it was equally obvious that there had been several large creatures of some kind through the area recently. Simon searched the body, and found a set of lockpicks which he gave to Colby. Trish pulled out a Journeyman candle and affixed it to her helmet.
Colby crept down the corridor in front of Trish and Simon, putting his capability to see in the dark to good use. He came to a T junction, and went left, following the tracks. He came to a doorway, and looking inside, saw another corpse, as well as a bunch of boxes and a burning brazier. Trish and Simon followed and entered the storeroom. Simon began to search through the crates and barrels, determining that they were workman’s tools, probably from when this area was built. Trish was standing near the doorway, and suddenly was thrust into the room by an invisible force. The brazier began to smoke heavily, and the shock of being forced into the room caused Trish to take a large lungful of the smoke. As she started to choke and cough, bugs began swarming out of the crates and barrels in the room. Simon grabbed a barrel that started coming apart in his hands and threw it on top of the brazier to block the smoke. He and Trish then began stomping the bugs. Simon worked his way over to the door and slashed at the invisible barrier with his katana, and with a flash of lightening, the barrier was gone. Simon killed the rest of the bugs as Trish used a healing spell to cure her of the effects of the poison smoke.
With no way of knowing that his friends had been attacked, Colby had continued down the hallway, coming first to a room that had columns as an entryway. He could see the floor had begun to turn to jade, and there was a sarcophagus and a chest to the rear of the room. Turning from the room, his curiosity led him up the hall to another T junction, where he turned left. He moved forward to the next room and stood, gazing into an ancient armory.